‘The Dempsters’ announced at end of stellar season for Scottish golf

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It’s that time of year again when we reflect on achievements over the past 12 months and there can be no denying that 2019 was a rewarding season for Scottish golfers. There seemed to be more tartan triumphs across various circuits this year than we had seen for some time, coupled with some other outstanding achievements, both in the amateur and professional ranks. In the absence of a formal Scottish Golf Awards, something that needs to change at a time when there is a feelgood factor back in the game in its birthplace, here are my selections in terms of outstanding achievement either by Saltire bearers or on Scottish soil this year.

Player of the Year

An easy one, really, because Bob MacIntyre used his rookie campaign on the European Tour to announce himself as the most exciting young Scottish player to emerge on the circuit in many a year. The left-hander from Oban recorded seven top-10 finishes, one of which came on his major debut in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, to become the first Scot to be crowned as the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year since 2006 as he finished 11th in the Race to Dubai. He not only impressed people with his game but also his demeanour on the course and it is very exciting indeed to see what lies ahead for the 23-year-old on the back of an outstanding season.

Team of the Year

Another one that needs no mulling over, especially the way Europe clinched a sensational Solheim Cup success at Gleneagles. Led by Catriona Matthew on home soil, the Europeans looked to be heading for a third straight loss in the contest before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to wins from Bronte Law and Suzann Pettersen in the final two matches. Pettersen, one of Matthew’s wildcards, secured the 14.5-13.5 victory - Europe’s third in the event in Scotland after earlier wins at Dalmahoy and Loch Lomond - by holing a six-foot birdie putt on the last green on the PGA Centenary Course.

Captain of the Year

Catriona Matthew may be quiet and unassuming, but she wasn’t scared to make some tough decisions as Europe’s Solheim Cup captain. the North Berwick woman made Suzann Pettersen one of her picks for the match at Gleneagles despite the Norwegian playing little competitive golf for two seasons and was vindicated as Pettersen holed the winning putt. The North Berwick woman also came up trumps with some of her pairings, notably teaming up Georgia Hall and rookie Celine Boutier and seeing them win four out of four. Matthew fully deserved to be re-appointed for the 2021 match in Toledo, Ohio.

Coach of the Year

Shane Lowry freely admits that he would not have become a major winner without the input of his long-time coach Neil Manchip, an Edinburgh man who is now in with the bricks in Irish golf. After cutting his golfing teeth at Turnhouse, Manchip began his coaching career under Kevan Whitson before following his mentor to Royal County Down in 1992. Based in Ireland ever since, he took up a post at Royal Dublin in 1999 before becoming the Golfing Union of Ireland’s national coach six years later. He linked up with Lowry through that role and, both from a technical aspect and a sounding board, Manchip helped the Offaly man become Open champion at Royal Portrush.

Amateur of the Year

It was mission accomplished for Hannah Darling as she teed up in the Junior Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, two years after making that her top target as she attended the 2017 event in Des Moines along with her fellow ‘Project 19’ initiative players. The Broomieknowe teenager was unable to help Europe pull off a victory at Gleneagles, but she did herself and her country proud, especially after being sent out first in the singles by captain Mickey Walker and grabbing a half point against the highly-rated Lucy Li. Darling also broke into the world’s top 100 this year, joining Aboyne’s Shannon McWilliam, and the two-time Scottish Girls’ champion looks as though she can go from strength to strength.

Outstanding achievement

Heather MacRae has never been scared to face a challenge head on, having first shown us that a decade ago when she clearly relished the chance to take on her male counterparts at Gleneagles as she became only the second female to play in the Scottish PGA Championship. In March, the Dunblane woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer, but she used her love for golf to stay positive through that battle and, seven months later, represented Great Britain and Ireland in the inaugural Women’s PGA Cup in Texas. MacRae’s courageous outlook on life earned her a nomination for the Scottish Women in Sport Awards and she is now working hard to try and achieve her goals for 2020.